In this first book of her Sunflower Café Mystery series, author Amy Lillard invites readers into the complex, unsettled life of 29-year-old Sissy Yoder, a newspaper advice columnist from Tulsa, Okla., who secretly writes as 70-year-old “Aunt Bess.” The advice Sissy metes out is based on the words of her own mother, and it is counsel that Sissy herself doesn’t always heed.
When Sissy’s relationship with her boyfriend falls apart and she loses her apartment and has to move in with her parents, she feels like a failure. So when arrangements are made through relatives for her to help her aunt Bethel, who has recently broken her leg, to run the Sunflower Café in Yoder, Kans., Sissy grabs the opportunity—“a last-ditch effort at exerting some measure of control over her life.” Small-town Yoder—the hometown of Sissy’s Amish parents who left it to seek a less stringent Amish lifestyle—is still populated with many Yoders and other eccentric characters.
Though Bethel doesn’t welcome Sissy’s help, the young woman is determined to stick it out. After all, she envisions herself as “strong, inventive, imaginative, worthy, and powerful.” When Sissy is the first to discover the milkman’s body by the café, stabbed with one of the establishment’s kitchen knives, she becomes the prime suspect. After all, she’s the newest person in town. Soon she feels her defining characteristics challenged and her fresh start slipping away.
Sissy soon realizes it’s up to her to exonerate her name. With her faithful Yorkshire terrier Duke for company and with the support of her cousin Lizzie and a local newspaper reporter, Sissy unravels the mystery in the quintessential small town where people “tend to take care of their own” and guard community secrets from outsiders.
Dairy, Dairy, Quite Contrary, though a murder mystery, avoids gruesome details and is anything but sinister; rather it is a delightful exploration of the human spirit, a wise unveiling of the reasons for people’s actions, and a celebration and critique of small towns. Plenty of humor, a delightful cast of characters, and a satisfying plot make this first book in Lillard’s series a promising harbinger of future Sunflower Café mysteries. (Kensington Books)